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That “I left my husband and job for Martin Shkreli” story elides his history of harassing women

The unlikeliest Romeo

On Sunday, Elle magazine posted one of the strangest stories I’ve read all year, describing how business crime reporter Christie Smythe left behind her job and her husband to pursue a relationship with one of the men she covered on her beat.

Strange enough, but what makes the story utterly, jaw-droppingly surreal is that Smythe’s knight in shining armor is none other than “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager and erstwhile pharma CEO most famous for jacking up the price of an HIV drug from $13.50 a dose to $750. He’s now serving a term in Federal prison for securities fraud.

None of this seems to daunt Smythe. Nor does the fact that he stopped talking to her after he first learned she was telling her story to Elle. Unable to call him — you can’t make incoming calls to prisoners — she’s literally waiting by the phone for his call.

Neither Smythe nor Shkreli come across well in the Elle piece. But, as Madeleine Aggeler points out in The Cut, the story pulls its punches in one critical respect, largely eliding the fact that Shkreli has been an energetic harasser of female journalists online.

Shkreli was perhaps the most relentless in his harassment of journalist Lauren Duca, on whom he claimed to have a crush. As Aggeler notes,

After Duca declined his invitation to attend President Trump’s inauguration as his plus-one, he changed his Twitter avatar and cover photos to pictures of Duca and made his bio “small crush on @laurenduca (hope she doesn’t find out).” His harassment of Duca became so severe that Twitter suspended him.

But he harassed many other women as well. The Elle story mentions one: journalist Emily Saul, in whose name Shkreli or a fan of his made a fake Facebook page suggesting she was in a relationship with him.

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz explained to The Cut that

Martin Shkreli harassed me and many other women throughout 2016. .. He made our lives a nightmare by encouraging followers to relentlessly post about us. It’s very frustrating to see people minimize his harassment now. … When I get attacked online, Martin’s fans still contribute to pile-ons.

Smythe, for her part, dismisses Shkreli’s harassment as mere “trolling,” saying he does it to relieve his anxiety. And in a Tweet on Sunday she suggested that his harassment of Duca “was kind of a two-way street with that awful nonsense. I don’t approve.”

Shkreli is also known for harassing assorted journalists — both women and men — by buying up domain names related to their names and posting mocking things about them dripping with right-wing buzzwords. He then offers to sell them back to his targets for many thousands of dollars.

A history of harassing women (or men) is a huge red flag for a relationship, possibly even presaging future physical abuse. I can only hope that the stunned reactions to the Elle piece cause Smythe to think twice about her peculiar relationship to Shkreli.

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Cyborgette
Cyborgette
30 days ago

I’ve seen a lot of takes framing this as an abdication of responsibility on Smythe’s part, and I guess if you’re a journalist you should be cultivating a resistance to this kind of manipulation. But I’m going to raise – and this is informed by personal experience – that some people have such potent manipulative abilities that they might as well have mind control superpowers, and Shkreli sure sounds like he fits that mold.

The issue isn’t that women lack free will like popular entertainments imply; it’s that we’re conditioned to be vulnerable by prior trauma, that patriarchy makes certain paths of victimization easier, and also a lot of these guys are just that dangerous. And they don’t have to be Charles Manson types who make others murder for them in order to be dangerous.

Big Titty Demon
Big Titty Demon
30 days ago

@Cyborgette

I’ve seen a lot of takes framing this as an abdication of responsibility on Smythe’s part

Are we sure it’s not for the bump in profile? Since according to OP they’re not talking now anyway? In any case, I can’t see anyone thinking “guy who raised price on AIDS drug in cartoonishly evil way, that’s the guy for me!” If you do think that… I mean… that’s kind of on you for being a terrible person, willing to let factual terrible things slide for whatever justification you think there is. If you had a hard line in the sand for taking advantage of people with AIDS, you wouldn’t fall for him.

Naglfar
Naglfar
30 days ago

I already had a very low opinion of Shkreli, and this certainly did not improve it.

he changed his Twitter avatar and cover photos to pictures of Duca and made his bio “small crush on @laurenduca (hope she doesn’t find out)

Wow that’s disgusting. It’s bad enough when young boys are obnoxious to girls they like, it’s even worse when it’s an adult man in a position of power.

Smythe, for her part, dismisses Shkreli’s harassment as mere “trolling,” saying he does it to relieve his anxiety.

Weird, I have a lot of anxiety but I don’t relieve it by harassing other people online. If this is genuinely how he relieves anxiety, he needs better outlets.

My take on the Elle piece itself is that Shkreli’s behavior reads like a common pattern of grooming, abuse, and manipulation. So I concur with Cyborgette in that I think Smythe was taken advantage of, and I think there may be more that was not disclosed in the story. The comparison to Manson is also interesting because Manson also attracted a much younger woman while in prison, who similarly remained devoted to him during his sentence.

@Big Titty Demon
I see your point, that Smythe could have seen that, but I can also see how someone very skilled at manipulation and abuse could overcome resistance. As well, one theory doesn’t necessarily exclude the other. To be clear, I’m not defending Smythe either, I just think that we do need to analyze the role played by psychological control.

Last edited 30 days ago by Naglfar
weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee
weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee
30 days ago

Smythe tweeted last year that she was covering Shkreli with the hopes of getting on Joe Rogan’s podcast and then retweeted it after this story came out saying “still true”

So, I feel no sympathy for this woman.

Correction Automatique
Correction Automatique
30 days ago

I use exercise and meditation to relieve my anxiety, just saying.

I hope she’s safe, no matter how awful she may be in her defence of such an abhorrent person, but I agree it’s difficult to rule out psychological manipulation in order for her to be this way. On the other hand, I know nothing of her past, her personality could be of this type and it took an association with Shkreli to amplify it. That said, cultists can defend and do a lot of crazy shit until deprogramming.

ms.modestee
ms.modestee
30 days ago

It’s kinda like the plot of Basic Instinct. But with pharmabro. Ew.

Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
30 days ago

She’s a journalist. He’s a complete shitbag that she’s doing a story on. She’ll have researched him thoroughly. This is the shittiest timeline, not some Hallmark Christmas movie.

She’s an idiot.

Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
30 days ago

This Shkreli character is so poisonous and self-centered that I usually don’t read stories about him beyond the headline or maybe the first paragraph. Ick, ick, ick. Unless Christie Smythe is just like Shkreli, she can and should do so much better.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
30 days ago

@Big Titty Demon

Oh, I try to have a hard line in the sand. But my experience is that those lines don’t last when I’m alone with a sociopath.

It sounds like I was wrong about this, but… IDK. My experience is that behaving ethically is as much about avoiding bad influences as about having the right ideals. Especially when you’re as suggestible as I am, but really no matter who you are; having less of what passes for “free will” than most people has taught me that everyone has less than they think.

Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
29 days ago

Well … that were quick.

He booted her via lawyer, and she’s ready to date other guys. (NY Post story, so as much salt as you take for a Daily Fail story is advised).

Last edited 29 days ago by Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
Lukas Xavier
Lukas Xavier
29 days ago

Smythe, for her part, dismisses Shkreli’s harassment as mere “trolling,” saying he does it to relieve his anxiety.

My immediate reaction was: Bullshit.
How would that work? Is he anxious about the possibility that someone else might be happy? Or is it some kind of control thing? As in, “if I cause this problem, then at least I’m the one in control of what the problem is.”

Either way, it’s not healthy and certainly not an excuse for shitty behavior. Find better ways of coping, dude.

Last edited 29 days ago by Lukas Xavier
Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
29 days ago

I, too, thought of Manson fangirls immediately when reading this. I don’t know what causes the phenomenon; perhaps a combination of internalized patriarchy and high RWA?

Meanwhile, ten’ll get you one Shkreli is a rapist. I suspect all privileged upper-crust male psychopaths are. He might not have been caught like Brock Turner, or publicly accused yet like Weinstein and Kavanaugh, but he would have had ample opportunities in business school to attend the same sort of drunken frat parties where Turner and Kavanaugh committed their crimes.

Meet the predators, indeed.

Diane
Diane
29 days ago

Smythe reminds me of the woman who goes around bragging about how she “stole her man,” only to learn the hard way that he just has overactive hormones.

LollyPop
LollyPop
29 days ago

@Threp

He booted her via lawyer, and she’s ready to date other guys. (NY Post story, so as much salt as you take for a Daily Fail story is advised).

I’m pretty certain she’ll still be waiting on that call, she’s just saving face and perhaps hoping he’ll get back in touch through jealousy.

I spent 3 years with a guy who, although I wouldn’t call it abuse, was a manipulator so I do have some sympathy. By the end of the relationship I barely spoke to my friends, I was walking constantly on eggshells because he’d blow up over the slightest thing, and spent my entire time either doing or trying to secure overtime at my supermarket job because he constantly harangued me about money while undermining any ambition to move into a creative career. Shkreli is so obviously at every moment trying to secure power over their interactions and using her own self-serving aims against her, but get why even though she seems dimly aware of this, he’s got the hooks in. It’s interesting to observe, in a morbid way, from an outsiders perspective.

Last edited 29 days ago by LollyPop
Naglfar
Naglfar
29 days ago

@Lukas Xavier

Or is it some kind of control thing? As in, “if I cause this problem, then at least I’m the one in control of what the problem is.”

I think that’s potentially a motive, though I’m still inclined to believe that the whole “trolling reduces anxiety” thing is a lie that he or Smythe made up as an excuse.

Lainy
Lainy
29 days ago

I’m not usually a lost for words, but i generally do not understand what I just read.

North Sea Sparkly Dragon
North Sea Sparkly Dragon
29 days ago

He has evil written all over his smug face, I don’t get the attraction.

LindsayIrene
LindsayIrene
29 days ago

When I get attacked online, Martin’s fans still contribute to pile-ons.

He… he has fans? A man who seems as appealing as moldy bread who’s famous only for being a colossal dick has stans that will form internet mobs for him? I don’t get it. Does he have charisma? People are always saying various people have charisma and I don’t really understand it. Maybe I can’t perceive what they percieve because I’m autistic?

Anyway, I have a relative who is into Charles Manson to the point that the man she considers the love of her life resembles Manson. I know another woman who swears she’s in love with Henry Lee Lucas. Neither of them ever had any sort of personal contact with these men. On Tumblr, there’s an entire murderer fandom where people crush on the Columbine shooters and Richard Ramirez. Humans are weird.

Alan Robertshaw
29 days ago

@ Lindsayirene

Humans are weird.

There’s a thing called hybristophilia that’s sometimes put forward as an explanation.

Naglfar
Naglfar
29 days ago

@LindsayIrene
I don’t really get the whole charisma thing either. Maybe it’s an autism thing, maybe it’s just that I’m introverted, I don’t know.

It seems to be fairly common for serial killers or cult leaders to get fans, there were also a number of Facebook groups after the Parkland shooting for women and girls who were enamored with the shooter and sent him letters in prison.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
29 days ago

@Alan

Honestly most discussion of that I’ve seen seems to fixate on “LOL women are just strange that way”, as opposed to, you know… serial abusers having that level of manipulative ability, and patriarchy conditioning us to accept and excuse abuse. I’ve heard some really fucked up things and dehumanizing things, especially along evo psych lines.

(And IRL it’s not just cis men – I’ve also met women and AFAB trans people who would use other people as easily as we draw breath. But the reality is that this kind of violence is gendered because social hierarchies are gendered, and a manipulative cis dude can usually wield a lot more power with a lot fewer repercussions than a manipulative non-cis-dude.)

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
29 days ago

@Naglfar

In part because that kind of thinking is in the air.

Romance novels that elevate “bad boys”. The whole “I can fix him” line of thought, which media condones very actively. Benevolent sexism, the idea that women must rely on men for protection – and not just physical protection, but also advice and common sense, that we literally must let men do our thinking for us or we risk being used. (When IRL the kind of men who are expected to do our thinking for us are the ones by far most likely to abuse us.)

The elevation of competitive mentalities between women, encouraging us to look to men for advice and solace instead of to each other (which mitigates the power of whisper networks!).

Even well-intentioned pop feminism that focuses on Nice Guys and other outwardly gross types, while having nothing but praise for loud, domineering men who claim to be feminists. (And then being shocked over and over again when they turn out to be garbage.)

I could go on. And on. And on… And on. Suffice to say this really is propaganda, gaslighting, mind control, on a world-spanning scale and with a history of thousands of years. The push for us to worship at the feet of our murderers is ingrained in our social fabric, and none of us are beyond its reach, only more or less affected.

Edit: re “the charisma thing”. Might be you’re lucky, might be (putting it very bluntly) that you just haven’t met anyone yet who could figure out your buttons well enough. I’m also autistic, and almost everything wrong in my life has been due to charismatic abusers.

Last edited 29 days ago by Cyborgette
Libby Goodheart
Libby Goodheart
29 days ago

Shkreli’s harassment turned Lauren Duca gay, that’s how abusive it was. He should stay in prison for life.

Naglfar
Naglfar
29 days ago

@Cyborgette

Might be you’re lucky, might be (putting it very bluntly) that you just haven’t met anyone yet who could figure out your buttons well enough. I’m also autistic, and almost everything wrong in my life has been due to charismatic abusers.

It’s probably that I’ve been fortunate to avoid such types. I don’t mean to negate anyone else’s experience and I am sorry if my post read as dismissive.

moregeekthan
moregeekthan
29 days ago

Based on the timeline I see here, I think there is a decent chance the Ms. Smythe was ready to blow up her marriage, and charismatic jailbird she was interviewing was a convenient way to do that. Then he was a skilled-enough manipulator he was able to string her along for a couple of years. If she gets away clean with only two years lost to an manipulative incarcerated boyfriend, she is lucky. (She may also be a horrible person independent of trying to impress pharma bro, but time will tell on that.)

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
29 days ago

@Naglfar

Oh, no offense taken. It’s more just that IME being autistic makes people extra vulnerable to manipulative abusers, so it’s something I want people to be aware of.

LindsayIrene
LindsayIrene
29 days ago

Is charisma just manipulation, then? Are actors considered charismatic because they can manipulate our emotions through their acting? Charisma may just be another concept I’ll never fully grasp, like flirting.

Dalillama
29 days ago

I rather suspect the whole matter of vulnerability to propaganda/manipulation has a great deal to do with how people define their sense of self and how strongly various elements of it are weighted, which is at least partially a learned thing and at least partially not. Specifically, people often tend to define themselves in terms of roles, which in turn govern how they act and where their levers are. Take Americans, for example. Most Americans, especially most white Americans, are really invested in being American, and Americanness is a key part of their sense of self. As such, they’re extremely vulnerable to American propaganda and extremely resistant to hearing anything that implies that America itself is anything less than idealistic, democratic, and mildly flawed. This is, apparently, because they conflate America with themselves and take both praise and criticism of the nation personally. In terms of abusers, this can apply equally well yo roles like e.g. wife or more generically ‘good girl’ (as Cyborgette notes). It’s quite common for autistic people to not grasp as firmly to, for lack of a better term, political roles, but aren’t any more resistant than anyone else to personal roles (or at least not entirely resistant, I dunno), hence not seeing ‘political’ charisma while still being vulnerable to gaslighting and manipulation in personal relationships (I think the principal thing is that autistic people are less likely to self-define relationships with public figures as personal relationships). I personally had a deeply strange upbringing, which left me functionally estranged from mainstream society. There’s a lot of downsides, but one upside is a keen eye for propaganda, and fewer personal levers than a lot of people. If someone manages to hit them anyway, though, we start getting into parts of my life I prefer not to remember, let alone talk about.

.45
.45
29 days ago

@ Cyborgette

It may be sexist, insulting, etc, etc, but I have often thought over the years that the main difference between a (cis, AFAB, etc) girl and a woman is that a girl will work hard to support a cheating abuser who does nothing but smoke pot and play Xbox, while a woman will kick him to the curb. Usually experience with the former scenario leads to the latter.

Like I said, insulting to both women and potheads, puts the blame on the victim, etc, but I think there is some truth there.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
29 days ago

@.45

It may be sexist, insulting, etc, etc,

Then why did you go ahead and say it, eh?

TBH I don’t think that’s “truth” so much as Truthy, dangerously simplistic, and yes, victim-blaming. There are some astonishingly mature and capable women out there who have had their lives wrecked by abusers after accomplishing great things, and calling them “girls” and “immature” and whatever does them a disservice – and makes light of how catastrophically dangerous abusers are.

@Dalillama

Woof. Sounds like we could have an interesting conversation. Your life experience sounds a lot like mine, and yeah, being less easily swayed along lines of “patriotism” does fit.

Lollypop
Lollypop
29 days ago

Edit: re “the charisma thing”. Might be you’re lucky, might be (putting it very bluntly) that you just haven’t met anyone yet who could figure out your buttons well enough. I’m also autistic, and almost everything wrong in my life has been due to charismatic abusers.

I relate to this. I think I’m pretty easily manipulated in some ways, but totally impervious in others. My ex played a lot on his bad childhood, and I’m a sucker for the idea of childhood suffering. I just felt so sorry for him, even when he was an unforgivable arsehole who I barely even liked.

Is charisma just manipulation, then? Are actors considered charismatic because they can manipulate our emotions through their acting? Charisma may just be another concept I’ll never fully grasp, like flirting

BBC Radio 4 in the UK just did a really interesting series on this. Apparently according to “charismatic” individuals who are actually very shy, there’s huge power in genuine eye contact. I always think of Freddie Mercury as a charismatic person, and I think in a non-problematic iteration it’s just a sense of sheer confidence and enthusiasm that makes people feel included and special.

LindsayIrene
LindsayIrene
29 days ago

Apparently according to “charismatic” individuals who are actually very shy, there’s huge power in genuine eye contact

Ah. I guess that’s where my issue lies. I don’t like eye contact, to the point that I don’t even like photographs where the subject appears to be looking at me.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
29 days ago

@Lollypop

Oh mood. One of the most reliable ways to control me is to appeal to my need to help, protect, and comfort others. A lot of my abusers in the queer community have had childhoods much more traumatic than mine.

Another reliable one is threatening suicide or self-harm. I’ve gotten a bit better at keeping my wits lately when people do that, but it’s still very difficult, because statements like that must be treated as honest. (And I know from bitter experience how damaging it can be when they aren’t.)

Re charisma: interesting. Eye contact does seem to be part of it, though a lot of my experiences have been with people who were also charismatic online, over text communication. IDK how to explain that, except that random-reward dynamics seem to play a role. (They’d tend towards mild contempt as a default, and very occasionally reward followers with gushing praise.)

Gender Defiant
Gender Defiant
29 days ago

Women like this honestly make me kind of ashamed to be a woman sometimes. “I know the guy is worse here, but honestly I know way to many women that really are attracted to asshole men.

.45
.45
29 days ago

@ Cyborgette

I don’t have any good explainations or excuses. You make good points.

Ooble
Ooble
29 days ago

@LibbyGoodheart that’s not how being gay works.

Jesalin, Sapphic Goddess of Lust
Jesalin, Sapphic Goddess of Lust
28 days ago

@LibbyGoodheart that’s not how being gay works.

Glad someone commented on that.